SWANS SONGS… If there was one band that none would expect to reunite, this would definitely be the Swans. Their reunion however has resulted in the release of the excellent album My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky late last year, together with outstanding live performances, including the one in Athens. Even now, the Swans remain true to an artistic vision that is constantly evolving. While staying contemporary detached from any historical references based on their mythical status, they follow their musical path with passion and honesty. And there could be no other to talk us through all these than their natural leader, the creative mind behind them, the man himself, Michael Gira.
What were the main reasons behind you recreating the Swans again?
Well I’ve been doing Angels of Light for about 13 years, which started right after the Swans and although I loved that music I began to feel dissatisfied with it. I wanted this total sound again, I wanted to be inside of a kind of a whirlpool of a tornado of sound again and it didn’t make sense for me to start approaching music that way and call it Angels of Light. So it obviously made sense to call it The Swans so I started The Swans again.
Do you find similarities between the latest incarnation of the Swans and the 1996 line-up?
Well there are some similarities, but you know it’s a near thing. It sounds like elements of Swans. If it just sounded like one era, I think that would be boring and embarrassing. But we have found ways of working it and pushing it forward. It is something very intense, you’ll see if you see us live. It’s quite an experience, it’s not just songs you know, we’re not just playing our songs, it’s always different every night so…it’s like a trial by fire.
Tell me about the recording process, did you all feel comfortable in the studio after all these years? Did you have a clear vision?
I had a clear vision, but usually like any other case, once I get everybody together things start changing a bit, surprising me in a good way. I have been working with Kristof Hahn, Thor Harris and Phil Puleo in Angels of Light throughout the years so we pretty much understand each other. I hadn’t worked with Norman Westberg for many years, so I was a bit nervous about that but it’s just like we have never stopped working together and I’m very glad he’s involved again. Αlthough Chris was new to the process he turned out to be great. The group is really an amazing group right now if I may say, so probably the best we ever had.
Τell me about the collaboration with Devendra Banhart, you collaborated with him and released many of his records.
I love Devendra, it was like finding a very young Captain Beefheart on the streets near your house. He’s such an extravagant pure person and very much an individual. My wife heard him play in LA around 2000 at a time when he hadn’t released any records and she couldn’t believe this voice. So she talked to him afterwards and he gave her a little cd and when she brought it to New York I knew right away that this was someone with a fantastic personality and vision, so I contacted him and he came out to live in New York to be on the label. We were furiously and constantly together for three or four years and by the time we were done he had grown and found his confidence and I was very pleased when he signed to a big label, because there was no way I could keep up with the interest that was shown for him. He just played with us in Los Angeles, he opened for Swans and it was really wonderful to have him back in the fold again. I love him.
But it was quite a surprise to hear him on the Swans record.
I had a song I was working on and I didn’t feel that my voice was appropriate, because I was singing much higher than I do and I realized it sounded like Devendra. That’s why I called Devendra and told him to sing it instead.
Do you feel that there is still room for innovation in music, in 2011?
If people are doing savage excursions and try to irritate people and that is necessary for them to exist as human beings (a musician that is), that doesn’t have an importance to anything really. What interests me more is an authentic, powerful, true voice. And by that I mean true vision. Not technical or stylish innovation.
What are your thoughts on the term experimental? Do you find it restrictive or an easy way to identify and label something we don’t necessarily understand?
Like most ways or terms to describe music, it’s futile. It’s impossible to describe a sound. I think it’s a way to differentiate from pop music, so in that sense it’s useful.
As for your live show, should we expect a notorious amount of massive volume you usually produce?
It’s very loud of course, but not all the time. That’s not the point. I want the sound to create a total experience, it’s not about attacking people or anything, it is more like a conceptual experience, like a really cool absolute fuck. (laughs)
So you want to create specific reactions?
I don’t know, it’s hard to describe. I use the analogy of sex. Giving yourself up is tough to handle for someone and it’s not about distributing pleasure or being yourself, it’s more about something that requires total concentration, release and surrender. That is what music is all about, it’s about following the sound.
Did you hear any records lately you tend to find inspiring, when you have time to listen to music?
Every once in a while, yes. The music that I find completely inspiring is from Australia, they’re called The Necks. They’re absolutely phenomenal, I love them. Live, it’s the best musical experience you will ever have. It’s like a sound wave that just keeps building and growing and it is played so passionately. It’s music that’s called jazz, but it’s not jazz in the way that it involves soloists. They’re making a sound and it’s very spiritual in a way. It’s actually a very deep place in the mind. I find it absolutely phenomenal, it’s very inspirational music to me.
Interview: Panayiotis Fetsis | Photograph: Carlos Melgoza | swans.pair.com